Talks resume in Brussels with Geoffrey Cox and Steve Barclay meeting Michel Barnier today: Brexit News for Tuesday 5 March

Talks resume in Brussels with Geoffrey Cox and Steve Barclay meeting Michel Barnier today: Brexit News for Tuesday 5 March
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Talks resume in Brussels with Geoffrey Cox and Steve Barclay meeting Michel Barnier today…

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier meets Britain’s negotiating team on Tuesday as both sides seek a breakthrough with just weeks to go before this month’s ominous divorce deadline. The sitdown comes after Barnier said on Saturday that the European Union was ready to give London further guarantees to help push the troubled divorce deal through the British parliament. Barnier also suggested European leaders would be amenable to a short “technical” delay in Britain’s departure from the EU, scheduled for March 29, to give parliament time to formally ratify a final divorce deal. His small overture has raised hopes that both sides can find a solution, including to the so-called “backstop” plan for the Irish borders. Barnier will meet in Brussels with Britain’s attorney general Geoffrey Cox and Brexit minister Stephen Barclay for talks that start at 4pm. “We’re now at a particularly critical stage in these negotiations,” said a spokesman for Theresa May on Monday. Cox’s presence is seen as central to the meeting, as he will ultimately offer a legal opinion on the Brexit deal and the Irish backstop that could determine whether key MPs in the British parliament will approve the accord. Earlier disfavourable advice by Cox was viewed as a contributing factor in the defeat of May’s deal by MPs in January. – Telegraph (£)

…after Cox reportedly shifts his focus after ‘giving up’ on eurosceptic backstop demands

Geoffrey Cox has switched his attention to trying to secure an enhanced “arbitration mechanism” to allow the UK to leave the Irish border backstop after failing to meet the Brexit demands of Eurosceptics. The Attorney General has given up trying to secure a hard time-limit or unilateral exit mechanism from the backstop protocol, The Telegraph has been told. Ministers briefed on Mr Cox’s approach said those aims, which represent the central demands of Eurosceptics, are considered too “blunt” and have been rejected by the European Union. Some Cabinet ministers are already resigned to Theresa May, the Prime Minister, losing a second meaningful vote on her deal amid concerns that changes to the backstop secured by Mr Cox will not be sufficient to win round Brexiteers. The Attorney General is understood to be focusing on securing an enhanced “arbitration mechanism” that allows the UK or the EU to provide formal notice that the backstop should come to an end. The EU is, however, resisting demands by British negotiators for an “independent” arbitration panel, outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. – Telegraph (£)

  • Attorney General Geoffrey Cox denies he has ‘abandoned plans to secure time limit for Irish backstop’ calling the claims ‘misunderstood fag ends dressed up as facts’ as he heads back to EU talks tomorrow – Daily Mail

Don’t try to ambush us with a late deal, Brexiteers warn Theresa May…

Tory Brexiteers told Theresa May last night not to ambush them with a last-minute legal deal with Brussels on the Irish backstop and expect them to vote in favour of it next week. Leaders of the hardline European Research Group (ERG) said after a meeting yesterday that they expected to see details of any agreement struck between Geoffrey Cox and EU negotiators well before next Tuesday’s “meaningful vote” in the Commons. They added that they would back a compromise only if they had the time to consider it in “good time” to “form a judgment in advance of a vote”, adding: “Our primary objective is a proper analysis.” The ERG and Nigel Dodds, deputy leader of the DUP, have set up a committee of Brexiteer MPs with legal backgrounds to examine concessions won by the attorney-general. The group includes staunch opponents of the withdrawal agreement such as Sir Bill Cash, the veteran Conservative Eurosceptic, and Dominic Raab, who resigned as Brexit secretary over the Irish backstop. – The Times (£)

  • Theresa May warned she should not ‘attempt to bounce’ MPs into agreeing Brexit deal next Tuesday – The Sun

…as she is warned she must whip her MPs to stop them taking a no-deal Brexit off the table…

Theresa May has been warned she must whip her MPs to keep a no-deal Brexit on the table in a vote next week as Geoffrey Cox travels to Brussels for make-or-break talks with EU negotiators. Senior Eurosceptics are convinced Mrs May will lose a vote on a revised Brexit deal on March 12 because they do not expect the Attorney General to win meaningful concessions on the Irish backstop. They are now planning for the votes which will happen on the following two days, when MPs will be asked whether no deal should remain an option, and whether Brexit should be delayed. Two Cabinet ministers are among senior party figures who have told the Prime Minister that allowing MPs to block no deal would be a disaster because the EU will treat Britain as a soft touch. It came as Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, faced a backlash from his own colleagues over plans to “blackmail” them next week with the threat of losing a larger than expected Brexit dividend if they vote against a deal. – Telegraph (£)

…as others suggest she call a parliamentary vote on the future relationship with the EU

Theresa May is considering demands from Labour MPs for a parliamentary vote on the UK’s future relationship with the EU as the price for backing her Brexit deal, as she faces an uphill battle to win over Conservative Eurosceptics. The prime minister has been told by Labour MPs that a package of greater guarantees for workers after Brexit, due to be unveiled on Wednesday, is only enough to convince perhaps three or four more to vote for her withdrawal bill. She was also warned that her offer of £1.6bn to towns could have been counterproductive as Labour MPs considering backing her deal would now be open to accusations that they had been bribed by No 10. However, one Labour MP involved in discussions said the key to winning the backing of dozens more MPs representing leave-voting areas was the promise of a parliamentary vote on the future relationship with the EU. A Downing Street source said May had promised an increased role for parliament on the political declaration but had not yet set out what this would involve. May is facing a huge challenge to win enough support for her Brexit deal next week, as some hardline Conservative Eurosceptics indicated on Monday they may prefer a delay to leaving the EU than supporting a withdrawal deal that fails to solve the Irish backstop issue. – Guardian

Emmanuel Macron calls for ‘minimum European wage’ as he says Brexit presents a ‘danger’ to EU

Emmanuel Macron has called for a “minimum European wage” across the EU and a guarantee that workers will receive “the same pay in the same workplace”. The French President set out plans for a “roadmap to European renewal” in the wake of the Brexit vote, which he said represents a “danger” to the future of the European Union. He said that the UK’s decision to leave the EU symbolised a crisis in which the EU was failing to respond to “its peoples’ needs for protection from the major shocks of the modern World”. In an article published in 28 European newspaper, he warned that people see the European Union as a “soulless market” that does not represent their interest. He said: “Never, since the second world war, has Europe been so essential,” Macron wrote. Yet never has Europe been in so much danger. – Telegraph (£)

  • Brexit is an ‘irresponsible lie peddled by anger mongers backed by fake news’ that has caused Europe’s biggest crisis since WWII, rages French President Macron – Daily Mail

EU will ‘happily’ reassure UK to get withdrawal deal passed, leaders suggest

Leo Varadkar has said Brexit talks are in a very “sensitive phase” but that the EU are happy to offer clarifications and assurances to get the withdrawal agreement over the line in Britain. The Taoiseach said that Ireland has been “very flexible and very reasonable” in helping the UK government to resolve its problems which, he said, were of Britain’s own making. Geoffrey Cox, the British attorney-general, and Stephen Barclay, the British Brexit secretary, return to Brussels today to continue their efforts to secure legally-binding changes to the backstop. Brexiteers fear the UK will be trapped permanently by the arrangement designed to keep the border open. “We are entering quite a sensitive phase now over the next week or two as we approach the next round of votes in the House of Commons and the European Council meeting the week after that,” the taoiseach said yesterday as he hosted Saulius Skvernelis, the Lithuanian prime minister, in Dublin. “We are happy to offer further clarifications and further assurances if that can help the UK government get the agreement over the line. But from day one we have been straight about a few things and among those is that Brexit cannot lead, under any circumstances, to the emergence of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. – The Times (£)

Tory MPs should risk a long delay rather than back May’s ‘poisonous’ deal, suggests leading eurosceptic barrister

Pro-Brexit Tories should risk a long delay to leaving the EU rather than bow to pressure to back Theresa May’s “poisonous” deal, says the QC advising them. Conservative MPs who sank the agreement in January have been told to stand firm in next week’s repeat “meaningful vote” – even if the price is an extension of the Article 50 exit notice until the end of 2020. Significantly, the advice comes from Martin Howe, a barrister specialising in EU law appointed by anti-EU Tories to analyse the legal implications of any changes to the Irish backstop secured by the prime minister. If the advice is followed, it would ensure a second defeat for the deal, probably next Tuesday – and pave the way for MPs to demand an Article 50 extension later next week. Until now, the suspicion has been that Brexiteer Tories will be cowed into backing a deal they detest for fear of a long delay to departure that would put the entire project at risk. But, in an article for the Conservative Home website, Mr Howe argued it was worth even the gamble that delay would allow opponents to “reverse Brexit altogether”.- Independent

Independent Group of pro-EU rebels said to be in talks with three more Tory MPs as they prepare to become a political party

At least three more Tories want to join Britain’s group of breakaway MPs – as they fast-track plans to become a political party. Ex-Tory Heidi Allen today revealed more of her former colleagues were keen to join the Independent Group. And she hinted that the number was big enough to cost Theresa May her wafer-thin “working” majority of eight. Ms Allen told ITV: “We have more [potential defectors] than we could take in. We’re having to stem the enthusiasm there. “Two or three more would be as much as we could manage I think [to avoid destabilising the Conservatives].” The comment come as leaders of The Independent Group (TIG) prepare for “exploratory talks” with the Electoral Commission tomorrow to step up plans to become a fully fledged political party. Separately Labour began moves to boot ex-Labour MPs among TIG such as Luciana Berger off their seats in cross-party select committees. TiG leader Chuka Umunna last month said the breakaway group hope to become a registered political party by the end of the year. But this could now be brought forward given the interest from other Tory and Labour MPs and polling which shows a staggering level of support for the new group. Ex-Labour MP Chris Leslie told The Sun: “The public deserve a better choice than Corbyn or an ever more right-wing Tory Party. – The Sun

The Government doesn’t understand how EU works, says its former ambassador to Brussels Ivan Rogers

The government does not understand how the EU works and so embarks on negotiating strategies that are doomed to fail, Britain’s former ambassador to Brussels has said. Ivan Rogers, who was Britain’s face in the EU capital from 2013 until 2017, said the government always thought it could circumvent the European Commission and deal directly with member state leaders. But the former permanent representative said the bloc “never works like that” and that the approach – pursued by Theresa May and David Cameron alike – always ended in embarrassment. “Capitals obviously matter, but I think having lived through this with a number of prime ministers, a number of different negotiations … that reflex in the British system always to think that we can deal direct with the organ grinders and not the monkeys: it never works like that. It didn’t work like that in the Cameron renegotiation either,” he told an event at the Institute for Government think tank. – Independent

Brits to get duty free back on alcohol and tobacco for trips to Europe under no-deal Brexit

Brits will get duty free back for trips to Europe under a no deal Brexit, The Sun can reveal. Chancellor Philip Hammond will change the law so all duty on alcohol and tobacco will no longer apply and sales of other products will be free of the 20 per cent VAT rate too. The move will cost the Treasury between £150 million to £200 million a year, government sources told The Sun. Duty free sales within the EU were axed by Brussels two decades ago. The changes will apply to all purchases made in airports, ports and ferries on outbound journeys. It means Brits going on a holiday to European destinations will be able to make savings by buying alcohol and other UK products before they leave. Government insiders said the move would also deliver a boost for Britain’s tourism industry by attracting more European visitors to UK destinations because they would be able to make savings on shopping before they return home. The move is designed to help rejuvenate neglected coastal communities, ferry ports and regional airports, while also benefiting Britain’s cruise ship industry. The law change was due to be rushed through Parliament this week in a Statutory Instrument – secondary legislation that transfers powers from the EU to the UK. – The Sun

Andrea Jenkyns, Peter Bone, John Longworth and Richard Tice: Tory MPs must vote down any deal that fails to deliver a proper Brexit or the people will never forgive us

We are about to witness some of the most important political decisions certainly of our lifetimes and most probably since the fateful year of 1940. While it was the clear mandate of the country to simply leave the EU (the referendum question never mentioned a deal) and two-thirds of UK and three-quarters of English and Welsh constituencies voted for this, there are a majority of MPs in Parliament who are determined to frustrate this outcome. Parliament has stripped the Government of its remaining negotiating lever, the determination to choose no deal rather than a bad deal and, as a consequence, Brexit-supporting MPs are now left with an apparently invidious choice between voting for the Prime Minister’s deal, with or without Cox’s so-called “codpiece”,  (a codicil suggesting an end date to the fabled “backstop”) or facing the likelihood of an extension of Article 50. This is not to say of course that Number 10 isn’t delighted with this outcome having regard to their determination for a “close and special relationship” ie not leaving. Without an end date, the UK will pay £39 billion (around £2,000 for the average family) for no say in EU affairs and be permanently trapped in the orbit of Brussels, having sacrificed all of the advantages of leaving. – Andrea Jenkyns MP, Peter Bone MP, John Longworth and Richard Tice for the Telegraph (£)

Emmanuel Macron: For European renewal

If I am taking the liberty of addressing you directly, it is not only in the name of the history and values that unite us. It is because time is of the essence. In a few weeks’ time, the European elections will be decisive for the future of our continent. Never, since the Second World War, has Europe been as essential. Yet never has Europe been in so much danger. Brexit stands as the symbol of that. It symbolises the crisis of Europe, which has failed to respond to its peoples’ needs for protection from the major shocks of the modern world. It also symbolises the European trap. The trap is not being part of the European Union. The trap is in the lie and the irresponsibility that can destroy it. Who told the British people the truth about their post-Brexit future? Who spoke to them about losing access to the European market? Who mentioned the risks to peace in Ireland of restoring the former border? Nationalist retrenchment offers nothing; it is rejection without an alternative. – President Emmanuel Macron via Elysee

Lindsay Aqui: Officials were ready for Brexit in 1975. How different could things have been if they had prepared this time round?

‘Nobody in Whitehall or Westminster yet has a grasp of what needs to be done, let alone how to go about doing it.’ This damning verdict of the UK government’s failure to plan for Brexit was published by the Financial Times shortly after the 2016 European Union (EU) referendum. There had been some limited planning undertaken by the Treasury and the Bank of England to counteract extreme market volatility. However, as the evidence given to the Foreign Affairs Committee and Public Affairs and Constitutional Affairs Committee makes clear, there was no comprehensive effort to design a strategy for leaving the EU. Both committees criticised this decision in part because of the precedent set by the referendum in 1975. When Harold Wilson proposed a national vote on the UK’s membership of what was then called the European Community, the Labour government engaged in an extensive contingency planning exercise. It should be said that the two referendums took place in different contexts. The UK of 2016 was not navigating the Cold War or experiencing an intense sense of domestic crisis, both of which dominated the politics and economics of the 1970s. Britain also had much more experience of referendums by the time of the Brexit vote. – Lindsay Aqui for the Telegraph (£)

Asa Bennett: The law will not tell Brexiteer MPs whether the deal is worth backing. They’ll have to make up their own minds

The oddest thing about Geoffrey Cox’s tussle with Brussels is that he has to secure enough change to the backstop to allow him to provide a sunnier legal opinion of Theresa May’s Brexit deal. In other words, the Attorney General hopes to get the deal through Parliament by finding a way to convince himself it is better. Whatever he says is not going to be heard unquestioningly by Brexiteers, as they have lawyerly expertise of their own to draw on. Seven Brexit-backing MPs with legal training and a prominent Eurosceptic lawyer have stepped up to examine Mr Cox’s claims as part of what has come to be seen as the European Research Group’s “star chamber”. The ERG’s legal eagles have excited many pundits. “Should the UK’s decision to leave the UK be settled in an argument between seven male white middle-aged Tory lawyers plus one woman of Indian ancestry and – on the other side – a single white middle-aged male Tory lawyer?” Robert Peston began his latest blog by asking. Conservative Home’s Paul Goodman casts an eye over the varying degrees of Brexiteer legal expertise and warns “against presuming that [the panel] is predisposed to sign up to any revised deal that the Government brings back.” – Asa Bennett for the Telegraph (£)

Tom Harris: Spare me the confected outrage of MPs complaining their Brexit bribe just isn’t big enough

Bribery. The word is just so ugly and pejorative. The person who succumbs to bribery is as corrupt as the person proposing it. We’ll have nothing to do with it in our political system, thank you very much! Okay, a joke’s a joke – back to the real world. You would think, though, following a glance at this morning’s headlines, that political bribery really is a foreign object, an unwelcome and rare interloper in our democratic system. My first thought was that perhaps today’s headlines were written by interns recruited on a temporary basis from the Quakers. Or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Alternatively, maybe it was the same old hacks reacting to the latest Brexit-related news with faux outrage. Cynical, I know, but it’s a possibility… The news which is causing experienced and weather-beaten journalists and politicians to twist their petticoats in dismay is that the prime minister has announced a “generous” package of new funding for mostly Labour constituencies in the hope that this will be enough to persuade a sufficient number of their MPs to support her EU withdrawal deal when it returns to the Commons on or around the 12th of Never. – Tom Harris for the Telegraph (£)

Howard Flight: The Brexit deal. I suspect we will end up being presented with a last-minute fudge

I am shocked that the Remain interest has been so successful in wrongly frightening people about the problems of the UK functioning under WTO if there is no EU deal. The EU accounts for a diminishing part of the world economy and of our trade. Its markets are slow-growing, and its population is ageing. Its share of world output has halved since 1980 and will continue to reduce. The growth markets of the future are outside the EU. The GDP of the Commonwealth is now some 30 per cent more than that of the EU (including the UK). We are also clear that we do not want to be tied to accepting instructions from the EU and ECJ, unable to establish our own trade agreements; and that it is also undesirable to remain tied to the EU economically with its antiquated and protectionist Customs Union, protectionist Single Market, and its overweight regulation model. Membership of the EU has been a drag on the UK economy for a long time. What we need is a post-Brexit competitiveness boost, which to be effective requires a clean break. Post-Brexit, we also need to be able to decide our own regulatory regimes. My preference for some time has been a Canada-style managed “Free Trade Plus” Agreement, but the Prime Minister’s negotiations have opted for keeping the UK tied to the EU, in several ways and for a long time. I would, therefore, now prefer the option of a managed, No Deal Brexit, trading under WTO rules. The WTO option is not about falling off a cliff or crashing out. Rather it would provide us with the economic freedoms we need in order to make the best of Brexit. It was this which the citizens of this country voted for in the referendum. Around a half of our international trade (55 per cent) is already conducted under WTO rules, and with non-EU, WTO members. – Lord Flight for ConservativeHome

Telegraph: Rather than bung cash to left behind areas, we should use the opportunity of Brexit to let them thrive

A key factor behind the vote to leave the EU was a perceived grievance among people in some parts of the country that they had been left behind by the globalist advances that had benefited places like London. Whereas the capital voted heavily to Remain, many northern towns and cities saw the highest levels of support for Brexit. This cannot be explained solely by concerns over EU immigration since in some of these areas it is low. Moreover, immigration is highest in London. So identifying the causes of popular disgruntlement and seeking to address them is a legitimate ambition of government, even an obligation. How to do this, however, is a political question. The Left would be inclined to pump money into deprived areas paid for by higher contributions from the better off. The Conservative approach should be to encourage places down on their luck because of a historic decline in manufacturing and heavy industry to diversify and create their own wealth. The Northern Powerhouse idea fostered by former chancellor George Osborne falls into this category. – Telegraph (£) editorial

Brexit in Brief

  • If we delay Brexit we are betraying the referendum – Leo McKinstry for the Express
  • Brexit Britain braced to lead the next Industrial Revolution – Get Britain Out’s Joel Casement for The Commentator  
  • Get real, Eurosceptics. Your choice is May’s Deal – or no Brexit at all – Henry Newman for ConservativeHome
  • The lawyers are taking back control of Brexit – Robert Peston for The Spectator
  • New Scottish currency is all about joining in the Euro disaster – Brian Monteith for The Scotsman
  • Here’s what British people would eat in a worst-case Brexit – Bloomberg
  • ‘I won’t let British tragedy infect EU!’ – Weber rules out British participation in European election – Express